Few things incite heated debate among evangelicals quicker than the mention of Pentecost. A mere reference to Acts 2 invites detailed discussions on the nature of glossolalia that disrupts even the best unity. In a church culture undeniably divided over the details of Pentecost, it’s important to remember the ultimate redemptive-historical significance of Pentecost and the implications it has for the mission of the church.
The Significance of Pentecost For Redemptive History
Pentecost marked the beginning of the end. It was the final event in the saving career of Jesus Christ and the fulfillment of the long-awaited promise of the outpouring of God’s Spirit that initiated the last days (Joel 2:28-32; Ezek. 36:22-32). Jesus lived a perfect Spirit-filled life, died in the place of sinners as a substitutionary sacrifice, was raised from the dead on the third day, and was exalted to the right hand of the Father after forty days. He received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and ten days later, on the day of Pentecost, poured out the Spirit upon all those who were gathered together (Acts 2:1-4).
Salvation history would never be the same.
The outpouring of the Spirit completed the inauguration of a new era in God’s redemptive program—the messianic age or the age of the Spirit—that begun in the first coming of Christ. This epoch stretches from Pentecost until the Lord’s second coming and is characterized by the radical evangelization of the nations. During these last days, all who repent of sin and believe in the Lord Jesus become participants in the blessings of this new age.
When it comes to Pentecost, I’d urge you not to miss the forest for the trees. What you believe about the glossolalia or the work of the Holy Spirit prior to Pentecost is a secondary matter. The defining feature of Acts 2 is the outpouring of God’s Spirit in fulfillment of the new covenant promises. Oh, how God’s people had longed for this day! One flawed generation after another testified to the fact that fallen humans could never keep God’s law; they could never carry out his mission. They needed more than the law; they needed a new heart that desired to keep the law. They needed more than a mission; they needed a new Spirit to empower them for God’s mission.
Acts 2 clearly conveys that that day had arrived; the long-promised outpouring of the Spirit had finally come as a result of Jesus’ work. A new age had dawned and now people from every nation under heaven could experience the indwelling presence of the Spirit and receive a new heart leading to new life. These people—saved by grace and marked by the Spirit—were then tasked with and empowered for the greatest mission ever conceived.
The Implications of Pentecost For Life On Mission
Christian discipleship would be unthinkable, even impossible, were it not for the coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Before he ascended Jesus told his disciples,
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” – Acts 1:8
Remember the disciples spent three years doing ministry with Jesus before his crucifixion, forty days listening to him speak about the kingdom of God after his resurrection, ten days devoting themselves to prayer after the ascension and yet—and yet!—it was only after Pentecost that they began to boldly proclaim the Word of God in power and call all people to repentance without wavering. The differences in the disciples’ lives and their ability to carry out Jesus’ mission pre-Pentecost and post-Pentecost are striking. This is because the outpouring of the Spirit transforms the people of God. Look at what happens in Acts 2:
- Believers become an empowered people (2:14-40).
- Believers become a missionary people (Acts 2:41; 47).
- Believers become a unified people (Acts 2:42-47).
As present-day disciples of Jesus we need to realize, we are no different from those first disciples. We too would be powerless to carry out Jesus’ mission apart from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Great Commission would feel like a mission destined to fail from the beginning were it not for the empowering presence of God’s Spirit. Praise God he did send his promised Spirit! Because of Pentecost we are now the empowered, missional, and unified people of God. We are commissioned by Christ to make disciples of all nations and equipped by the Spirit to live out that call.
Today, as you seek to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and make disciples of those whom God has entrusted to your care, don’t live as if Pentecost isn’t a reality. Many of you are excessively burdened by Jesus’ call to make disciples because you are trying to do it in your own strength. You are trying to give life without acknowledging the Life-Giver; you are trying to impart understanding without relying on the Spirit of Truth; you are trying to witness to the world without drawing from the Source of Power. You look all too much like the disbelieving, scattered disciples during Christ’s passion rather than the empowered people of God sent on mission.
Many of you need to repent of your self-reliance and man-centered methods of discipleship. Human programs are a poor substitute for the power of the Spirit of God. Turn from those ways and learn to listen to the leading of the Spirit through God’s Word and prayer. Daily ask Christ to fill you afresh with his Spirit so that you might be empowered to live life on mission. As you remember Pentecost, acknowledge the redemptive-historical significance of it for disciple-making and celebrate the fact that you have been equipped with power from on high to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth.
Whitney Woollard has served in ministry alongside her husband Neal for over six years. She holds an undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies from Moody Bible Institute and just finished her Master of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies from Western Seminary. She is passionate about equipping disciples to read and study God’s Word well resulting in maturing affections for Jesus and his gospel message. Neal and Whitney currently live in Portland, OR where they love serving the local church. Follow her on Twitter @whitneywoollard.